BROOKSVILLE — Now the real budget work and the debates over property tax rates can begin.
The Property Appraiser's Office has sent the 2009 taxable values to the county's taxing districts, and the numbers are about what officials feared: A decimated housing market has shaved hundreds of millions of dollars from the tax rolls.
The county and school district received a little better news than expected, based on the property appraiser's earlier projections. The city of Brooksville and Spring Hill Fire Rescue fared a little worse.
Now budget office staffers throughout the county have firm numbers to bring to elected officials, who in turn must decide just how much tax money to raise to provide essential services. Tax, or millage, rates are applied to property values to calculate property owners' tax bills, which will be mailed this summer.
A sampling of the taxing districts and their decreases in taxable values from last year:
• Hernando County general fund, down 9.5 percent. County officials had braced for a hit as high as 12 percent.
• Hernando County School District, down 8.3 percent. School officials had feared a drop of 10 percent.
• City of Brooksville, down 17.3 percent. That is a couple of percentage points higher than initially projected.
• Spring Hill Fire Rescue, down 11.2 percent. Officials had expected a 10 percent decline.
County budget director George Zoettlein hadn't crunched the numbers by Tuesday afternoon to figure exactly how much the lower values will cost the county's general fund.
"We're probably a little better off," Zoettlein said.
But that still will mean lopping off about $5 million from the roughly $54.5 million general fund if tax rates are kept the same, he said.
The school district still would lose about $3.5 million in general fund revenue if tax rates stay the same, though the state dictates how much districts have to raise in local taxes, and those rates are expected to decrease slightly, said chief financial officer Desiree Henegar.
For Brooksville, the drop in values will translate to a $572,000 decrease in revenue from last year's tax rate, budget director Steve Baumgartner said.
While the news was worse than expected, "it's not a big surprise," Baumgartner said.
Spring Hill Fire Rescue would have to work with about $1.4 million less in its general fund, finance director Terri McClanahan said.
The Property Appraiser's Office is still putting together a report to show how much various categories, such as homestead, nonhomestead and commercial properties, have declined in value, said Nick Nikkinen, director of special projects.
But this year's appraisal process was clearly extraordinary for a couple of reasons, Nikkinen said.
"No one who's been here for any length of time can recall a year like this one," he said.
The sheer number of foreclosures forced officials to take property with bank-owned titles into account for the first time.
"It took more time, but it's certainly more reflective of what's going on in the market," he said.
There is good news for homesteaded property owners who have been frustrated by the so-called recapture rule that can force tax bills to go up even when property values and millage rates go down.
Even if values have been capped, the rule allows governments to recapture up to 3 percent of past savings due to the cap, or at least a rate equal to the consumer price index. In recent years, that price index has hovered around 2 percent to 3 percent.
This year, it's 0.1 percent, so homesteaded property taxes should remain flat, Nikkinen said.
Tony Marrero can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1431.